Rowing Equipment – Erg Training Basics

You went out and bought a nice shiny new ergometer. Your rowing machine has been a dream for a while and now you have it at home.

Now what?

Well, do us all a favour and get some technique help, watch a video or better yet get some instruction – health clubs are full of often perfectly fit folks with the most embarrassing technique. I’d explain it here but you need something visual. Learn a bit and you’ll enjoy your erg. Ignore my advice and you’ll destroy your back, get little from the workout and look, frankly, like an idiot.

‘nuff said.

This isn’t jogging folks. You don’t get on the erg and shuffle along with little effort. The rowing machine is the ultimate full-body burn-a-tonne-of-calories exercise device.  It also isn’t sprinting – the first few strokes will seem easy, especially with health-club technique – but it isn’t. Slow down Charlie – if you sprint your workout will be over in a minute or two at best.

No, you need to learn to settle into a hard puling 18-22 strokes a minute rowing workout. Pull hard, then relax. Runners like to work hard all the time. Rowers like to pull and then enjoy a small break as they recover for the next stroke. Enjoy that time!

So – sort out your ergometer technique. Learn the basics of pacing and how to handle the low stroke rates of 18-22. Now enjoy the thrill of a long endurance workout.

Your first bout on a rowing machine will of course depend on your current level of fitness, but let me suggest that you try to maintain your pace for 10 minutes without stopping. Sounds easy, but if you are learning then it won’t be (see info on pacing and technique).

Get that down and extend your time on the machine. 3 x 10 minutes is a good aim or 2 X 20 minutes. The variations are endless - just keep your heart rate up for an extended period of time. No so much that your lungs are searing and your heart wants to blow out your chest wall. Just enough to make talking tough, but not impossible.

Later, we’ll give you some tips for maintaining your rowing machine and for changing up your workouts.

Rowing Equipment III: Oars

Along with boats, oars are the most basic and important piece of rowing equipment.

Today all oars are constructed from a mixture of carbon fiber and fiberglass, permitting the construction of a lightweight oar with the ability to control important properties, notably the stiffness of the oar.

Sculling oars come in a variety of lengths from approximately 280cm  - 295cm or more, with custom options available from leading manufacturers. Sweep oars range from 370cm to 380cm or more, again with custom lengths as well. Today, most oars come with the ability to adjust the length to a degree, typically at the handle.

The "blade" often refers to the part that is placed in the water to propel the boat. While some clubs will invariably still have the older Macon style of blade in their stock the "hatchet" style of blade is used be virtually all competitive crews now. The hatchet blade offers a greater amount of surface area, and it is used with shorter oars as a result. Its center of balance is toward the top of the oar, rather than the middle as in macon oars. Most rowers find them easier to grip the water without technical mistakes. The shaft of the oar is connected to the blade assymetrically - higher up on the blade which minimizes the amount of shaft in the water (which contributes to drag), as well as maximizing the surface area of the balde that can be submerged.

The exact size and shape of the hatchet varies between companies, and individual companies even offer a variety of shapes.

The path of the oar through the water during a stroke is not uniform. The forces applied as a result change throughout the stroke and rowers are also more effective in applying force early and through the mid part of the stroke than in the later part of the stroke. Manufacturers dedicate considerable time and energy to research as the shape of the blade will change how effective it is in each phase of he stroke.

Oar Manufactuers:

Concept II - USA Concept II, maker of the most-used rowing ergometer, also provides the majority of oars used in North America.

Croker Oars of Australia have significant market penetration in North America and around the world.

Empacher - the German boat builder also makes their own oars.

Rowing Equipment II - Rowing Companies

There are several companies of note to look at when you want to purchase rowing equipment, whether it be shells, ergs, oars, or more. We will attempt to put together a comprehensive list of rowing boat builders here. If you have other rowing equipment companies that you would like listed, please contact us.

Rowing Boat Companies


Hudson Boatworks World and Olympic Championship Racing Shells
Kashper Racing Shells
Levator Boatworks Singles for Every Body


Vespoli World Class Racing Shells
Pockock Racing Shells
WinTech Racing Win More. Spend Less.
First Boat
Resolute Racing Shells
Alden Rowing Shells  Manufacturer of recreational, traditional, and competitive rowing shells, oars, rowing gear and accessories. 
Durham Boat Company, Manufacturer of Dreher  sculls, sweeps and carbon boat parts 


Carl Douglas Racing Shells, UK
Janousek Rcing Boats, UK boatbuilder
Empacher Rowing Shells
Sykes Racing, Australia
Fillipi Design, Implementation and Selling Rowing Boats and Accessories

Is your rowing company not on this list? Send us a note - - and we'll be happy to include you!

Rowing Ergometer Race Strategy

Thanks to reader Daniel Carvalho of the Galit Club in Portugal sent along a spreadsheet that helps with erg race pacing.

Ergometer Strategy Spreadsheet

He included the following explanation:

The file named Ergometer (did not know what else to call it...) allows us to actually see some interesting details:

  • The dependence of 500m split (mm:ss,0) and Power (W) (decreasing the 500m split from 2'02'' to 2'01'' is not the same as decreasing from 01'38'' to 01'37'' - Ok, most of us know that. But usually coaches tend to say that heavyweights should be x seconds per 500m faster than lightweights. That is not a reasonable demand since 4s/500m (e.g.) at conversational pace is not the same as 4s/500m when you are pulling hard)
  • The most economical power (and 500m split) for any distance is 44W (03'19,6''). I am still surprised by this conclusion (see Power - Split - Calories folder, cells in green) (I used the C2 formulas. Hopefully the calculations are correct.)
  • Suppose you want to know how fast (and how powerfull) was James Reichert when we pulled 9127m in 30minutes (1994). Simply type 9172 in a grey cell signalling 30min in the C2 Ranking workouts folder and you wiil find out that the average split was 01:38,1/500m and 370,5W (which is what I pulled in my latest 2k erg test... hehehe)

The file named Ergometer - Training zones according 2000m Erg Test is pretty simple.
You may want to rename the tags correspondent to x% of the 2000m average power.
Other than that seems a good way for dosing your workouts.

(All unprotected cells are GREY. Watch out for the decimal separator being a comma).

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Rowing Equipment I: Ergometers

The most basic piece of land based rowing equipment is the ergometer.

Concept II has the standard machine and if you want to ascend the ranks of rowers and compete at a significant level, you'll need to become an expert on the rowing machine.

Coaches use them in crew selection, the wise ones only as one of many tools, the less informed make decisions based entirely on erg times.

The greatest criticism of the erg - aside from pain and boredom! - would be the fact that they don't perfectly simulate on water technique. Sports scientists will tell you that fitness is sport specific and while an ergometer is a useful training tool, it will never replace or properly duplicate the feel and training on water in a real boat.

Rowperfect produces a rowing machine that is said to better replicate the feel on water, unfortunately the concept II machine is standard in so many boathouses that the Rowperfect has not made substantial inroads in this important segment of the rowing equipment market.

Concept II produces an addition piece of equipment - the slide. Ergs are places on concept II slides which enable the machine to move rather than being fixed to the ground. This makes the feel much more like actually being in a boat. Unfortunately, it is a significant additional cost and clubs are often already on stretched budgets.

On the other hand, for the individual or family wanting to add some rowing gear to their home, the cost of an ergometer is not cheap, but at $900 is far, far more affordable than buying a boat and oars at ten times that cost - and of course most people can find a bit of ground to place a rowing machine on, while few have access to water or boat storage.

If you are looking to add an ergometer to your home, then consider going to one of the many indoor rowing competitions each year. Hosts must provide dozens of new rowing machines for the racing and sell them off at significant discounts after the event is completed. You'll need to be in touch early - likely the fall - and reserve your erg as they sell off quickly.

Another great benefit of the rowing machine is the ability to work on fitness when your technique as a novice rower can be limiting you ability to get in a great workout on the water. As you learn you can supplement your on water skill development with erg training on land - where you can work as hard as you want after some very basic skills have been developed.

At the same time, having an ergometer with well-placed mirrors or even a video camera enable the rower to gain insight into their technique that can't be had on the water.

The basic rowing ergometer technique will be explored in a future post.

Rowing Equipment

We'll begin adding some information on basic Rowing Equipment over the next several days.

Rowing Equipment includes everyone's favorite ergometer, shells of various sizes, oars, and much more.

Stay tuned for lots more on equipment and our great sport.

photo credit Major Clanger

Rowing Science Changes

As longterm readers will notice there hasn't been a lot published here in a while. We're not in a position to continue significant content on the science of rowing, so in an attempt to continue adding content, we're going to broaden the focus of the site.

We'll now include more information on rowing equipment, rowing machines, and the basics of rowing - in addition to the occasional return to our roots of rowing science.